Office of International Programs

Arriving in the US

How soon can I enter the U.S.?

You cannot enter the country more than 30 days prior to the start date on you I-20 or DS-2019.

What documents will I need to present?

Please be sure to have the following items in your carry on luggage. You will need to present them when you enter the US 

  • Passport with F-1 or J-1 visa
  • Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 (Do not open the envelope if the immigration officer at the embassy or consulate put this in a sealed envelope. The officer at the airport will open it.
  • Payment receipt for SEVIS Fee
  • Evidence of financial support
  • University of Southern Maine/School of Law Admission Letter
  • Name and contact information of Designated School Official or Responsible Officer at USM: Kimberly Sinclair, Director, International Programs, 207-780-4959 

Arriving in the U.S.

Whether arriving by air or sea you will need to proceed to the immigration booth and present your passport and your USM I-20 or DS-2019. If you are arriving in the U.S. by car you will need to present this information to the border official. Be sure you have the other documents mentioned above easily accessible. Expect to have your index fingers scanned for fingerprint purposes and a digital photograph taken, as required by regulations.  

Form I-94
Entering the U.S. by Air or Sea

If you are entering the U.S. by air or sea, the immigration officer should stamp your passport at the port of entry after completing an inspection of your documentation and returning your documents to you and create an electronic I-94 for you. The stamp should have a notation that reads either "F-1 - D/S" or "J-1 - D/S." This indicates that you have an F-1 or J-1 visa and have been granted admission for duration of status ("D/S"). Duration of status means that as long as you are maintaining your F-1 or J-1 status, you may legally remain in the U.S. until the end of your academic program.

Your arrival information, or your electronic I-94, will be available to print on  You should print this out and save along with your other immigration documents.  You will also want to verify that the information on your I-94 is correct.

Entering the U.S. by Land

If you are entering the U.S. by land, the immigration officer will issue you a paper form I-94A, a small white card stapled into your passport. It will read "F-1 - D/S" or "J-1 -D/S."

If There is a Mistake on your Form I-94 or Passport Stamp

It is important to carefully review the Form I-94 (paper or electronic) and passport stamp that is issued to you at the port-of-entry. Your Form I-94 and passport stamp should indicate the date and location of your arrival to the U.S. as well as the visa status with which you are entering the country.

If you notice a mistake on your Form I-94 (paper or electronic) or passport stamp, please try to request a correction while you are at the airport. If you do not notice the mistake until after you depart the airport, please bring it to the International Office as soon as possible so that we can advise you on how to request a correction.

If you have a mistake on your Form I-94 (paper or electronic) and/or passport stamp and you do not request a correction, your status may not be recorded properly and/or you may have difficulties with certain immigration benefit-related applications (such as F-1 Optional Practical Training) in the future.

Problems Upon Arrival 

In certain cases, if there is some problem with your documents, you may be issued a 30 day entry on your I-94 card, and issued a form I-515, with instructions to see your international student advisor. If you receive this form, come to the International Services office upon your arrival.

Secondary Inspection Requirements

If the Customs Border Patrol officer at the port of entry cannot initially verify your information or you do not have all of the required documentation, you may be directed to an interview area known as “secondary inspection.” Secondary inspection allows inspectors to conduct additional research in order to verify information without causing delays for other arriving passengers.

The inspector will first attempt to verify your status by using the Student and Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS). In the event that the CBP Officer needs to verify information with your school or program, provide them the name of the Interim Director of International Services, Mrs. Kimberly Sinclair, 207-780-4959. In the event you arrive during non-business hours (evening, weekends, holidays), you can call campus police at 207-780-5211 and they will contact Mrs. Sinclair on your behalf


Citizens of Canada

Citizens of Canada are not required to obtain a U.S. visa to enter the United States. The following documents should be presented to either the customs officer at the border or to an officer at the airport:

  • Valid Passport
  • University of Southern Maine Admission Letter (sent to you by either undergraduate admission or graduate school)
  • University of Southern Maine I-20 or DS-2019
  • Payment receipt of SEVIS Fee
  • Proof of financial support

Note: Permanent residents of Canada are required to obtain a visa from the U.S. embassy or consulate before entering the U.S.